Chapter 8 | Ben Means Business | The Young Castellan

Chapter Eight.

With his blood seeming to effervesce in his veins from the excitement he felt, Roy placed the writing-materials in front of his mother and then hurried out, crossed the drawbridge, and made for the little gate tower, where, upon hearing steps, the old retainer came out, bent of head and stooping, with one ear raised.

“Master Roy’s step,” he said; and as the boy came closer: “Yes, it’s you, sir; just like your father’s step, sir, only younger. What’s the news, Master Roy?”

“Bad, Jenk,—civil war has broken out. Father is well and with his regiment, but there is great trouble in the land. I’m going to put the castle in a state of defence. Shut the gate again and keep it close. No one is to come in or out without an order from my mother or from me.”

“That’s right, Master Roy, sir; that’s right,” piped the retainer. “I’ll just buckle on my sword at once. She’s as sharp and bright as ever she was. Nobody shall go by. So there’s to be a bit of a war, is there?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so, Jenk.”

“Don’t say afraid so, Master Roy; sounds as if you would be skeart, and your father’s son couldn’t be that. But nobody goes by here without your orders, sir, or my lady’s, and so I tell ’em. I’m getting on a bit in years, and I can’t see quite as well as I should do, not like I used; but it’s the sperrit as does it, Master Roy.”

“So it is, Jenk; and you’ve got plenty in you, haven’t you?”

“Ay, ay, ay, Master Roy,” quavered the old man, “plenty. Up at the house there they get talking about me as if I was so very old; but I’ll let some of ’em see. Why, I want five year o’ being a hundred yet, and look at what they used to be in the Scripter. I’ll keep the gate fast, sir—I did this morning, didn’t I, when they three dragoons come up?”

“Yes, capitally, Jenk—but I must go. I’m busy.”

“That’s right, sir—you go. Don’t you be uneasy about the gate, sir. I’ll see to that.”

“Yes,” said Roy to himself, “it is the spirit that does it. Now I wonder whether I’ve got spirit enough to do all the work before me!”

He hurried back over the drawbridge, and glanced down into the clear moat where he could see the great pike lying, but he did not stop to think about catching it, for he hurried on to the servants’ hall, drawing himself up as he felt the importance of his position, and upon entering, the three troopers, who were seated at a good substantial meal, all rose and saluted their colonel’s son.

“Got all you want, men?” said Roy, startling himself by his decisive way of speaking.

“Yes, sir; plenty, sir,” said the man who bore the despatch. “Master Martlet saw to that.”

“That’s right. Now, look here, of course we want you and your horses to have a good rest, but when do you think you’ll be ready to take a despatch back?”

“Take a despatch back, sir?” said the man, staring. “We’re not to take anything back.”

“Yes; a letter to my father.”

“No, sir. Colonel Sir Granby Royland’s, orders were that we were to stop here and to help take care of the castle.”

“Were those my father’s commands?” cried Roy, eagerly.

“Yes, sir, to all three of us—all five of us, it were, and I’m sorry I couldn’t bring the other two with me; but I did my best, didn’t I, lads?”

“Ay, corporal,” chorused the others.

“Oh, that’s capital!” cried Roy, eagerly. “It relieves me of a good deal of anxiety. But my father—he’ll expect a letter back.”

“No, sir; he said there was no knowing where he would be with the regiment, and we were to stay here till he sent orders for us to rejoin.”

“Where is Martlet?” asked Roy then.

“Said something about an armoury,” replied the corporal.

Roy hurried off, and in a few minutes found the old soldier busy with a bottle of oil and a goose feather, applying the oil to the mechanism of a row of firelocks.

“Oh, here you are, Ben,” cried Roy, excitedly. “News for you, man.”

“Ay, ay, sir, I’ve heard,” said the old soldier, sadly. “More rust.”

“Yes, for you to keep off. My father’s orders are that the castle is to be put in a state of defence directly.”

Down went the bottle on the floor, and the oil began to trickle out.

“But—but,” stammered the old fellow, “what does her ladyship say?”

“That she trusts to my father’s faithful old follower to work with me, and do everything possible for the defence of the place. Hurrah, Ben! God save the king!”

“Hurrah! God save the king!” roared Ben; and running to the wall he snatched a sword from where it hung, drew it, and waved it round his head. “Hah! Master Roy, you’ve made me feel ten years younger with those few words.”

“Have I, Ben? Why, somehow all this has made me feel ten years older.”

“Then you’ve got a bit off me that I had to spare, Master Roy, and good luck to you with it. Then,” he continued, after listening with eager attention to Roy’s rendering of his father’s orders, “we must go to work at once, sir.”

“Yes; at once, Ben.”

“Then the first thing is to order the gate to be kept shut, and that no one goes out or in unless he has a pass from her ladyship or from you.”

“Done, Ben. I have been to old Jenk, and he has shut the gate, and buckled on his old sword.”

“Hah! hum! yes,” said the old soldier, rubbing one of his ears; “that sounds very nice, Master Roy, but,” he continued, with a look of perplexity, “it doesn’t mean much, now, does it?”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Why, sir, I mean this: that if any one came up to the gate and wanted to come in—‘Give the pass,’ says Jenk. ‘Haven’t got one,’ says whoever it is. ‘Can’t pass, then,’ says Jenk, and then—”

“Well, yes, and then?” said Roy. “Why, sir, if he took a good deep breath, and then gave a puff, he’d blow poor old Jenk into the moat. He’s a good old boy, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but we can’t leave things at the gate like that.”

“But it would break his heart to be told he is—he—”

“Too rusty to go on, sir,” said Ben, grimly. “But it would break her ladyship’s heart if we didn’t do our duty, and we shan’t be doing that if we leave our outwork in the hands of poor old Jenk.”

“What’s to be done?”

“I know, sir. Tell him the gate’s very important, and that he must have two men with him, and let him suppose they’re under his command.”

“That’s it, capital!” cried Roy. “Then we must place two men there with him at once.”

“Ye-e-es, sir,” said Ben, drily. “But who are we to place there—ourselves?”

Roy looked hard at Ben, and Ben looked hard at Roy.

“You see, sir, we’ve got the castle and the weepuns, but we’ve no garrison. That’s the first thing to see to. Why, when those three troopers have gone back with their despatch, we shall have as good as nobody.”

“But they’re not going back, Ben. Father’s orders are that they’re to stay.”

“Three trained soldiers, sir, to start with!” cried Ben. “Me four, and you five. Why, that’s just like five seeds out of which we can grow a little army.”

“Then there are the men-servants.”

“Well, sir, they’re more used to washing cups and cleaning knives, and plate, and horses; but we shall have to lick ’em into shape. Let’s see, there’s the three men indoors, the groom, and coachman, that makes five more.”

“And the two gardeners.”

“Of course, sir! Why, they’ll make the best of ’em all. Twelve of us.”

“And Master Pawson, thirteen.”

“P’ff! him!” cried Ben, with a look of contempt. “What’s he going to do? Read to the sentries, sir, to keep ’em from going to sleep?”

“Oh, he’ll be of some use, Ben. We mustn’t despise any one.”

“Right, sir; we mustn’t: so as soon as he comes back—he’s gone over to Parson Meldew’s—”

“Yes, I know.”

“You tell him to get to his books and read all he can about sword and pike wounds, and how to take a bullet out of a man when he gets hit. Then he can cut up bandages, and get ready knives and scissors and thread and big needles.”

“Do you mean in case of wounds, Ben?”

“Why, of course, sir.”

“But do you think it likely that we shall have some—”

“Rather queer sort of siege if we don’t have some damage done, sir. Well, that settles about Master Pawson. Now, what next?”

“The men at the farm, Ben.”

“Yes, sir; we ought to get about ten or a dozen. They’re good stout lads. We must have them up at once and do a bit of drilling. They needn’t stay here yet, but they can be got in order and ready to come in at a moment’s notice. Next?”

“All the tenants must be seen, Ben. They’ll all come too, and drill ready for service if wanted.”

“And that means about another twenty, I suppose, sir.”

“Yes, or more, Ben.”

“If they’re staunch, sir.”

“Ah, but they would be. My father’s own tenants!”

“I dunno, sir. If times are going to be like we hear, you’ll find people pretty ready to go over to the strongest side.”

“Oh, nonsense! There isn’t a man round here who wouldn’t shout for the king.”

“Quite right, sir,” said Ben. “I believe that.”

“Then why do you throw out such nasty hints?”

“’Cause I’ve got my doubts, sir. Lots on ’em’ll shout for the king, but if it comes to the pinch and things are going wrong, I want to know how many will fight for the king.”

“Every true man, Ben.”

“Azackly, sir; but, you see, there’s a orful lot o’ liars in the world. But we shall see.”

“Well, we’ve got to keep the castle, Ben.”

“We have, sir, and keep it we will, till everybody’s about wounded or dead, and the enemy comes swarming and cheering in, and then they shan’t have it.”

“Why, they’ll have got it, Ben,” said Roy, laughing, but rather uncomfortably, for the man’s words as to the future did not sound pleasant.

“Ay, and I shall take it away from ’em, sir; for if the worst comes to the worst, I shall have made all my plans before, and I’ll do a bit o’ Guy Fawkesing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, I should ha’ thought you’d ha’ understood that, sir.”

“Of course I do; but how could you blow up the castle?”

“By laying a train to the powder-magazine, knocking the heads out of a couple o’ kegs, and then up it goes.”

“Powder—magazine—kegs?” cried Roy. “Why, we haven’t one, and I wanted to talk to you about getting some. How’s it to be done?”

“By going to your father’s lib’ry, sir, and opening the little drawer as he keeps locked up in the big oak table. There’s the keys there.”

“Yes, of the wine-cellars, Ben; but no—Oh, absurd!”

“Is it, my lad? I think not. Think it’s likely as your grandfather and his father would have had swords and pikes and armour, and big guns and little guns, and not had no powder to load ’em with?”

“Well, it doesn’t sound likely, Ben; but I’m sure we have none here.”

“Well, sir, begging your pardon for contradicting my master, I’m sure as we have.”

“Down in the cellars?”

“Down in one of ’em, sir.”

“But I never knew.”

“Perhaps not, sir; but I’ve been down there with your father, and I don’t suppose it’s a thing he’d talk about. Anyhow, there it is, shut up behind three doors, and I’ll be bound to say dry as a bone. It’s very old, but good enough, may be. All the same, though, Master Roy, the sooner we try what it’s like the better, and if you’ll take my advice you’ll have one of the big guns loaded and fired with a good round charge. That’ll try the gun, scale it out, and give ’em a hint for miles round that, though Sir Granby’s gone to the wars, his son’s at home, and his dame too, and that they don’t mean to stand any nonsense from a set o’ crop-eared rascals. That’ll do more good, Master Roy, than a deal o’ talking, and be less trouble.”

“We must do it at once, Ben,” said Roy, decidedly.

“The first thing, sir; and, by the way, as we’re going to begin to get our garrison together, it’ll be as well to make a little show. If I was you, I’d put on a pair of buff boots, wear a sword and a sash always, and I don’t say put on a lot of armour, but if you’ll let me, I’ll take the gorget off that suit of Italian armour, and you can wear that.”

“But it will look so—” said Roy, flushing.

“Yes, sir; but we’ve got to look so,” said the old soldier, decidedly. “It makes people respect you; and if you’ll be good enough to give me my orders, I’ll take to a buff coat and steel cap at once.”

“Very well, do so,” said Roy. “But I will not promise to make any show myself.”

“But you must, sir, please, for her ladyship’s sake. Look here, Master Roy, you’ll be calling the tenants and labourers together, and you’ll have to make them a speech.”

“Shall I?” said Roy, nervously.

“Why, of course, sir, telling ’em what their duty is, and calling upon ’em to fight for their king, their country, and their homes. Yes, that’s it, sir; that’s just what you’ve got to say.”

“Well, Ben, if I must, I must.”

“Then must it is, sir; but if they come here to the castle, and you’re like you are now, they’ll be only half warmed up, and say that Master Roy can talk, and some of ’em’ll sneer and snigger; but if you come out when they’re all here, looking like your father’s son in a cavalier hat and feathers, with the gorget on, and the king’s colours for a sash, ay, and buff boots and spurs—”

“Oh, no, not spurs when I’m walking,” protested Roy.

“Yes, sir, spurs,—a big pair with gilt rowels, as’ll clink-clink with every step you take; they’ll set up a cheer, and swear to fight for you, when you’ve done, to the death. And look here, Master Roy, when you’ve done speaking, you just wave your hat, and chuck it up in the air, as if fine felts and ostridge feathers weren’t nothing to you, who called upon ’em all to fight for the king.”

Roy drew a deep sigh, for his follower’s words had nearly made him breathless.

“We shall see,” he sighed.

“Yes, sir, we shall see,” cried Ben. “So now, if you please, sir, I won’t wait to be getting into my buff jerkin now, but I’ll take your orders for what we’re to do first.”

“Yes, Ben; what ought we to do first?”

“Well, sir, it’s you as know. You said something about strengthening the guard at the gate.”

“Oh, but I say, Ben, that was you said so.”

“Only as your mouthpiece, sir.”

“But it sounds silly to talk about strengthening the guard at the gate when we’ve only got old Jenk, and no regular sentry to put there.”

“Never you mind about how it sounds, sir, so long as it’s sense,” cried Ben, striking his fist into his left palm. “We’ve got to make our garrison and our sentries out of the raw stuff, and the sooner we begin to sound silly now the better. It won’t be silly for any one who comes and finds a staunch man there, who would sooner send a musketoon bullet through him than let him pass.”

“No, Ben, it will not, certainly. Whom shall I send?”

“Well, sir, if I was you, I’d do it as I meant to go on. You give me my orders, and I’ll go and enlist Sam Rogers in the stable at once, bring him here fierce-like into the armoury; put him on a buff coat, buckle on a sword, and give him his bandoleer and firelock, and march him down with sword drawn to relieve guard with old Jenk.”

“But he’ll be cleaning the troopers’ horses, and begin to laugh.”

“Sam Rogers, sir? Not him. He’ll come like a lamb; and when I marches him down to the gate, he’ll go out like a lion, holding his head up with the steel cap on, and be hoping that all the servant-girls and the cook are watching him. Don’t you be afraid of him laughing. All I’m afraid of is, that while he’s so fresh he’ll be playing up some games with his firelock, and mocking poor old Jenk.”

“Pray, warn him, then.”

“You trust me, sir. Then, when that’s done, perhaps you’ll give the orders to find quarters for our new men, and tell ’em that they’re to rest till to-morrow by your orders; and after that there’s the drawbridge and portcullis.”

“Yes; what about them?”

“Why, sir, you know how they’ve been for years. You must have ’em seen to at once; and, if I was you, I’d have the portcullis seen to first, and the little sally-port door in the corner of the tower. We shall want half a dozen men. I’m a bit afraid of the old bars and rollers, but we shall see.”

“Order the men to come, then, when you’ve done, and let us see, and get everything right as soon as possible.”

Ben saluted in military fashion, and marched off to the hall, where Roy heard him speak in a cheering, authoritative voice to the new-comers, and then came out to march across to the stables, which were in the basement of the east side of the castle, with their entrance between the building and the court; but the gate-way that had opened into the court-yard had been partly closed up when that was turned into a flower-garden, and the archway was now covered with ivy.

Roy went up to one of the corridors beneath the ramparts, and watched, out of curiosity, to see how the groom would take his new orders.

He was not long kept in suspense, for the sturdy young fellow came out talking eagerly with Ben and turning down his sleeves. Then they went inside, through the great gate-way to the armoury, and in an incredibly short space of time came out together, the groom in steel jockey-shaped cap with a spike on the top, buff coat, sword, and bandoleer, and shouldering the clumsy firelock of the period.

As they reached the archway, Ben stopped short, drew his sword, said a few words in a sharp tone, and marched off, with Sam Rogers keeping step; while a muttering of voices told of how strangely matters had turned out according to old Ben’s prophecy, for, on turning to see what it meant, Roy saw down through one of the narrow windows that the whole of the household had turned out to do likewise. But there was no giggling and laughing, for the women seemed to be impressed, and the men-servants were shaking their heads and talking together earnestly about the evil times that had come.

Another sound made Roy turn sharply in the other direction to see his mother approaching.

“Then you have begun, my son,” she said, gravely.

“Yes, mother. The sentry was set, after a long talk with Martlet.”

“You need not speak in that apologetic tone, my boy,” said Lady Royland, quietly. “I see the necessity, and I am sure you are doing well. Now, come and tell me more of your plans.”

She led the way to the library, and as they entered Roy glanced towards the big oak table standing at one end; his eyes fixed themselves upon the small drawer, and he seemed to see a rusty old key lying there, one whose wards were shaping themselves plainly before his eyes, as he told of his arrangements with the old soldier.

“Yes, you have begun well, Roy,” said Lady Royland at last. “And what Martlet says is quite true.”

“But you would not dress up as he advises, mother?” protested Roy, rather bashfully.

“Dress up? No, my boy; but I would put on such things as a cavalier and an officer would wear under such circumstances,—a gorget, sword, boots, hat and feathers, and the king’s colours as a scarf. Why, Roy, your father would wear those in addition to his scarlet coat.”

“Yes, mother; but he is a soldier.”

“So are you now, Roy,” said the dame, proudly. “And so must every man be who loves his king and country. Martlet is quite right, and I shall prepare your scarf and feathers with my own hands.”

“Why, mother,” cried the boy, wonderingly, “how you have changed since even a short time ago.”

“So has our position, Roy, my son,” she said, firmly. “Who’s there?”

The butler entered.

“Benjamin Martlet would be glad, my lady, if Master Roy would come and give him his instructions, and, if you please, my lady, he wishes me to help.”

“And you will, I am sure, Grey?”

“Oh, yes, my lady,” said the man, eagerly; “but I was afraid your ladyship might be wanting something, and no one to answer the bell.”

“I want my servants, Grey, to help me to protect their master’s interests while he is forced to be away in the service of the king. Can I count upon that help?”

“Yes, my lady, to a man,” cried the old servant, eagerly.

“I thought so,” said Lady Royland, smiling proudly. “You will go, then, Roy, and see what Martlet is to do.”

Roy was already at the door, and five minutes later he was standing in the gate-way with every man employed about the place, the three troopers being fast asleep, exhausted by their long journey down from town.